Thursday 23 April 2015

The Prisoner - Checkmate

Episode 9: Checkmate

First ITV broadcast: Friday 24th November 1967, 7.30pm [ATV Midlands/Granada]
Estimated first run ratings: 9.1 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 17th August 1968, 7.30pm

The episode begins with an aggressive roar from Rover as it rolls through the Village. Everyone stops completely still, apart from one man (George Coulouris). Number Six notices this man and follows him. The man is known as 'the Champion' and is playing a game of chess with people as the pieces. Number Six joins in, playing a pawn. At one point, the white queen's rook (Ronald Radd) moves without orders. This is seen as catastrophic. "Not allowed. Cult of the individual" we are told. The rook is taken to hospital.

The next day Number Two (Peter Wyngarde) takes Number Six to see Rook in hospital. Rook is undergoing a "rehabilitation". Number Two says the technique is "based on Pavlov". If you aren't familiar with Pavlov, he rang a bell before he fed his dog. Eventually the dog began to associate the sound of the bell with food and would salivate at the sound of the bell, regardless of whether the dog had seen any food. Rook has been dehydrated and awakes in a room with water containers of different colours. Three are empty and one, the blue one, gives him a shock but when told to go back to it he, cautiously, does. This time it gives him water.

Number Two and the head psychiatrist (Patricia Jessel) observe Rook.
Upon his release from hospital, Number Six makes contact with Rook and pretending to be a guardian, gets information from Rook about who he is and why he was brought to the Village. Number Six reveals that he is really a prisoner and tells Rook that he has found a way to tell the difference between the prisoners and the guardians. This has been an ongoing problem for Number Six as he can never know who to trust. He has discovered that if he acts authoritatively, the prisoners will assume him to be a guardian and obey him. However the guardians are more likely to defy him. Number Six asks to speak to a man doing some gardening and the man tells him he'll have to wait. Guardian. Number Six starts to get people together ready for an escape.

Meanwhile, Number Six met Number Eight (Rosalie Crutchley) (I think we're onto our third or fourth Number Eight in the series) whilst in the chess game. She was playing the queen. She is hypnotised to believe she and Number Six are in love. She gets given a locket to wear that sends back her pulse rate and therefore Number Two and the doctors know when she is near Number Six. Arguably, they could just track him through the cameras in the Village, but he has been shown to be getting good at finding blind spots.

Number Eight comes to Number Six's house one evening and makes him a hot chocolate. She's told him how she feels and he keeps asking who put her up to it. She is desperate for his attention and his approval. "May I see you again?" she asks. "Yes, I'm here all the time" he replies. I rather like that gag. It doesn't feel shoehorned in and nine weeks into the show it's a joke the viewers can get now.

"If only you'd care a little, I'd be happy."
The next day Number Six denies that he loves Number Eight and she inadvertently reveals what has happened when she says "if not then why did you give me this locket". Number Six looks at it and finds the electronics inside. He takes it to Rook, who is building a radio and says he can use the parts. When it's finished, Number Six sends out a Mayday call and manages to get in touch with a nearby ship. He says they are a plane going down. Rook goes out to sea in a dingy with the radio to try and draw the ship in with a distress signal.

Number Six goes with a group of prisoners to tie up Number Two, whose console is picking up the distress signal. It suddenly stops and Number Six runs down to the beach to find the dingy on shore with no sign of Rook. Number Six gets in the dingy and heads out himself, eventually getting picked up by a boat. But upon getting inside he sees Number Two on a television screen. The boat is the Village's. Then Rook appears. He turned Number Six's own logic on himself, believing the authoritative Six was a guardian; "You deliberately tried to trap me!". Rook thought his loyalty was being tested so turned Number Six in to Number Two.

Number Six fights with the small crew of the boat but Rover appears and pushes the boat back towards the shore.

The episode itself is supposed to be a game of chess but I don't really have anything to say on that. I find it a slightly stretched metaphor. However, something that interested me and I quite like is that Number Six comes undone through his own theory. Throughout the series he has been depicted as confident and self-assured. He has done most things alone but when planning escapes and other things, he does look in control and feels he knows what he is doing. This may not have been the case, but he has certainly acted that way. He is not a meek subordinate. So really, it makes perfect sense that Rook should believe Number Six to be a guardian. He has never acted like the other prisoners. During their escape preparations, Number Six is in charge. He oversees things and when the time comes, passes the coded message round to everyone to let them know they are ready. "You only have yourself to blame." Number Two tells Number Six. "I gather you avoided selecting guardians by detecting their subconscious arrogance. There was one thing you overlooked." "What was that?" "Rook applied to you your own tests. When you took command of this little venture, your air of authority convinced him you were one of us." Number Six himself is evidence that his own theory cannot be one hundred per cent accurate. The line between guardians and prisoners remains blurred.

My final say is that I really enjoyed Peter Wyngarde as Number Two and would have liked to see him feature more heavily in the episode. I would certainly have preferred to see more face-to-face scenes with Number Two and Number Six. I don't think I have ever seen Wyngarde in anything before. Interestingly, according to an interview with Wyndarde, McGoohan personally asked him to be in the series. His karate chop was an addition to the script, with Wyndarde practicing every morning.

Next week, Number Six can't even be bothered to try and escape. Pfft.

Be seeing you.

Friday 3 April 2015

The Prisoner - Dance of the Dead

Episode 8: Dance of the Dead

First ITV broadcast: Friday 17th November 1967, 7.30pm [ATV Midlands/Grampian]
Estimated first run ratings: 9.1 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 27th July 1968, 7.30pm

For the first time, Number Two speaking in the title sequence is a woman. We have had a couple of female Number Two's so far. In 'Free For All' it is revealed that Number Six's maid, Number 58, is the new Number Two and in the previous episode, 'Many Happy Returns', Mrs Butterworth is revealed to be Number Two. Interestingly, both characters appear earlier in each respective episode and both under different names, only being unveiled as Number Two at the end of the episodes. 'Dance of the Dead' is the first time we get a female Number Two for the entire episode. Unlike the previous female Number Twos, who both wore skirts and dresses, this Number Two (Mary Morris) is stereotypically masculine, sporting trousers and a jumper, as well as the striped scarf favoured by several previous Number Twos.

The episode starts with an attempt to 'break' Number Six, which Number Two interrupts and spouts off the familiar dialogue about wanting Six together. We have heard variations on this several times in the series. Leo McKern's Number Two in 'The Chimes of Big Ben' says "I don't want a man of fragments!" It seems unnecessary to repeat this idea so many times and simply wastes time in an episode. However, I am willing to excuse 'Dance of the Dead' because that old point of episode order pops up again...

On number occasions this episode tells us that Number Six has not been in the Village very long. Early on he says "I'm new here." When he meets his friend Roland Walter Dutton (Alan White), Dutton says he has been in the Village a couple of months and Number Six says he got there "Quite recently", which implies to me that he has been there only a matter of weeks. During the trial Number Two says of Number Six "He is new and guilty of folly."  In 'The Chimes of Big Ben' the Colonel says Number Six has been gone for months, so how can it be only a few weeks here? The episode order is really bodged up. As if The Prisoner wasn't confusing enough to watch, they throw curve balls like this in.

The plot of this episode is based around Number Six's discovery of a body washed up on the beach. He finds a wallet and a small radio on the man so decides to insert his photo and a note into the wallet, seal it in a plastic bag, then send it with the man back out to sea, kept afloat by a stolen life ring.
Lesson 1 in reusing a dead body.
At one point listening to the radio, it sounds like Number Six has picked something up but when Number Two spots it, they can only pick up the local Village radio. Nonetheless, she confiscates it.

Number Six meets Dutton, who we can guess is an old friend or colleague. Dutton has been getting tortured in the hospital and claims he has told them all he knows but they don't believe him. They have released him for a bit to think things over. Dutton is sure they are going to break him, saying "Soon Roland Walter Dutton will cease to exist."

There is a carnival, including a party at Town Hall. Earlier in the episode this is announced as "There will be music, dancing, happiness - all at the carnival. By order." Saying that "There will be [...] happiness" seems very odd and makes one think of forced smiles; the smile is there but the eyes show the terror that created it.The last two words emphasise the idea of an imposed joy that I have written about before.

Number Two finds Number Six on the beach early in the evening and I must draw attention to some stunning shots. I have nothing more to say about them other than I think they are absolutely beautiful.

The party is fancy dress and costumes were sent out earlier. Number Six's is his own tuxedo, as seen in 'A. B. and C.' He stands out considerably amongst the colourful costumes of the others and asks Number Two "Why haven't I a costume?" She replies "Perhaps because you don't exist", reminding us of Dutton's prediction that he will soon cease to exist.

Number Six sneaks off, stealing a doctor's white coat and a woman, also in a white coat, hands him a piece of paper. It's a "termination order" and is needed for Number Two urgently. Number Six opens it up and finds Dutton's name on it. Entering a room he finds green cabinets and proceeds to open the drawers to each. We are not shown what is in them but later find out that it is a morgue. Number Two appears with a black cat. Number Six had taken in the cat but Number Two reveals that the cat is hers. Number Two reveals that they will amend the man that Number Six sent out to sea. "So to the outside world-" "Which you only dream about." "I'll be dead." "A small confirmation of a known fact." Number Two is really messing with Number Six's head here. The outside world no longer exists and he is dead. There may as well no longer be any outside world because he is never going to see it again. His life in the outside world is over because he can never reach it again. His life in the outside world now only exists in his dreams.

They head back to the party/cabaret evening. The music, dancing and happiness have stopped. There is silence. Number Six is to be put on trial for possession of the radio. Number Six has had an Observer watching him during this episode, Number 240 (Norma West). Observers were mentioned in 'Arrival' but haven't really been touched on since. Number 240 is to be prosecuting and Number Two, dressed as Peter Pan, is the defence. Three judges have been appointed. They are not named but are dressed as Elizabeth I, Horatio Nelson and a Roman emperor, who I think is supposed to be Julius Caesar. I have to admit I am basing this solely on him being dressed similarly to Kenneth Williams in Carry On Cleo (1964).

The History book judges.

Kenneth Williams can't believe someone stole his outfit

It's a kangaroo court. They claim Number Six has broken the rules and when he asks "Has anyone ever seen these rules?" he is ignored. Number Six wants a character witness and asks for Dutton. Number Two fetches him and we see he is dressed as a jester. He is the saddest, most miserable looking jester I have ever seen. Number Two sits him down and lifts his chin. The man looks broken. He says nothing. Roland Water Dutton no longer exists.

Unsurprisingly, the judges find Number Six guilty. Caesar reaches for a black cap. "The sentence is death. We sentence in the name of the people, the people carry it out in the name of justice." Number Six gets a few seconds grace to walk through the crowd, then he runs as they run after him. They seem mad and animal-like. Number Six finds a trapdoor in the morgue, runs down, then back up some stairs. He enters a room that was locked before and finds a machine typing away. It is either sending or receiving some sort of information. Number Six wrecks it and the typing stops. He turns and sees the people through a window.

"It's a mirror" Number Two tells him. "Why are they trying to kill me?" "They don't know you're already dead. Locked up in the long box in that little room." Number Six tells her "You'll never win" and she replies "Then how very uncomfortable for you, old chap." Number Two laughs manically as the machine starts typing again.

This episode feels like a filler episode. Not a lot happens to move the plot of the whole series along. It is just another way for a Number Two to show Number Six how much control they have over the Village. The inhabitants are controlled to the extent that when ordered, they will attempt to kill a man because he possessed a radio. That is certainly a little scary. But we have seen this sort of thing before by now and as with the 'breaking him' scene, I feel we have seen enough by now. This episode should definitely have been a lot earlier.

We pick up some more Village Info. Number Six says to his new maid "The maids come and they go" and shortly afterwards says "I'm new here", which seems contradictory at first. How can he know that the maids don't stay very long if he hasn't been there long? But perhaps they really are changing very rapidly, only staying a week at a time say.

There's a force-field around Town Hall at one point that stops Number Six getting in. A passing man tells Number Six "It's fussy about who it lets in." Even for The Prisoner, the idea that the building is sentient seems a bit too far-fetched. Instead, we can surmise that it is being watched from a control room and a force-field can be turned on or off. The idea of a force-field is interesting though and I would be curious as to the extent it can be implemented in the Village. Why don't they simply place a force-field around the whole Village, including the sea? This would have stopped any attempts to escape out to sea and reduce the need for Rover. But perhaps the force-field capabilities are limited and can only be applied to buildings.

Whilst dancing at the party with Number Six, Number 240 says "This place has been going for a long time" but when Six attempts to question her "Since the war? Before the war? Which war?" she only replies "A long time." This tells us, er, precisely nothing. The Village has been there for a long time. How long is a long time?  Three years? Five years? 10 years? 50 years? I have no idea. Make your own minds up how long a long time is. The Village must keep some mysteries.

Be seeing you.